Everyone understands Marcus Mariota is, to borrow baseball great Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “the straw which stirs the drink” in terms of whether the Oregon Ducks will beat Florida State and advance to the championship round.
Yet we all realize too, that other players on both sides of the ball will need to elevate their level of play. These are the four best teams in college football and none of them has reached this point without multiple players making significant contributions.
If you take Mariota out of the equation, my vote for team MVP would be Byron Marshall. Thus it should be no surprise I believe Marshall is one of the key factors for the Ducks being the better team on January 1st and beyond.
Overall Marshall has played relatively quietly this season. No doubt he’s performed not only in the shadow of Mariota, but also in that of freshman sensation Royce Freeman. However, no player on offense and arguably even the entire team has had to make such a significant change in his “job duty” from the 2013 season to 2014. Nor does “quietly” mean without a positive impact.
Rewind to the 2013 season…Marshall was Oregon’s leading rusher with over 1,000 yards. This ranked him 5th in the Pac-12 as a sophomore. The other four players ahead of him were two seniors and two juniors.
Fast forward to 2014, and for reasons I will speculate on…namely the season ending injury to Bralon Addison — the team’s leading returning WR before the season even began — and the emergence of Freeman along with super talented RB Thomas Tyner, Marshall was asked to switch to the WR position or “playing in the slot.”
Once there he became the team leader in pass catching! This also ranked him 12th in the Pac-12 with everyone ahead of him being a legitimate WR in a conference loaded with excellent passing QB’s. In case you are wondering who finished second in receiving for the Ducks, it is Devon Allen with 41 catches. Marshall has 61!
Some of the WR’s have more TD’s than Marshall (Allen, Stanford and Brown) and have higher average yards per catch (See my earlier “quietly” reference.), but when a player leads the team by twenty receptions, he is “doing his job” and “being where he is supposed to be” on any given play.
Did I mention, Marshall also has rushed for nearly 400 yards, which puts him behind only the obvious — Freeman, Mariota and Tyner.
As we all know, the Ducks are loaded with explosive and fast players on the offense. It is a very talented and deep group at every “touch the ball” position. If you take a moment to step away from the much deserved shining light of Marcus Mariota, it is beyond obvious that Byron Marshall is a “big time” player.
Another way to view it is that in back to back seasons on arguably one of the most prolific — if not the most prolific — offensive teams in college football, Byron Marshall first led the team in rushing and then receiving! It is nothing short of being very impressive. GO DUCKS!
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck